When I was in my college years, and really even up until I met my wife, I never actively thought about being a father. I figured it would happen at some point (after all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?) but I never spent time contemplating what that would mean to my life. I was me-focused, what can I say? The world was only as large as my dreams and aspirations.
But when Ruthanne came along, then Ella, and then Jon, that all changed.
Actually, it all changed when I met Rachel, because she was the only force in the world that could make me think about certain things/realities (like emptying the trash on a regular basis or the financial benefits of washing underwear you already own instead of throwing away used drawers and buying new ones – but I digress). And when she agreed to be with me forever, for better or worse, in June of 2001, I knew then that my mind would have to expand to account for a world of shared dreams.
It was easy with Rachel – we were both adults, we shared things in common, we were both capable of speech and using the toilet on our own as well as being able to feed ourselves – so the transition wasn’t too tough. Plus, I loved her with my entire heart.
With kids? I wasn’t too sure.
Even when we began discussing the idea of having kids I was a bit nervous. Gone would be the advantages that Rachel and I shared – age, perspective, language, autonomy – and instead I would have to face an utterly new person experiencing everything for the first time, a person whose life would be inexorably shaped by my choices and perspective and philosophy. The reality of parenting hit me full force: as a parent, you are responsible for shaping a human being who will live in the world, and as you shape them, so you shape the world.
It sounds trite, but it’s true. And it’s a staggering responsibility. Mind-bending, actually, as well as bowel-loosening.
With Ruthanne, the journey ended before it could begin. With Ella, we’re almost into year six of the experiment, and the early returns are positive. She’s bright, energetic, incredibly smart and polite, and despite her myriad minor health issues (which seem, to us, to be monumental), she’s as perfect as any kid can be. Sure, there are days that I don’t enjoy sitting down and having to help her with homework (she occasionally has lapses in her attention span – wonder where she gets that from?), but there’s never a day that I don’t love her with all of my soul. There’s never a day that I regret being her dad.
The same holds true with Jonathan. We’re discovering that the terrible twos were late blooming in him, and as we speed towards his third birthday the boy is making remarkable progress in catching up on his various tirades, tantrums and mood swings. It’s kind of like living with a glue-sniffing drifter.
But through it all, I love my son in a way that I didn’t know existed. While his morning routine is a bit tiresome (wake up, scream, whine, scream some more, make relentless demands about how he would like his milk served) there’s never a day that I don’t relish the inevitable moment when he will walk up to me, his eyes sparkling, and crawl into my lap and rest his head against my chest. Or grab my face and pull my head forward to kiss me ever-so-gently on the lips. Or wrap his arms around my leg in a bear hug and annouce, “I pooped!”
The fact is that I love all of my kids and would give anything, try to be anything, for them. And I look back on the time in my life when I didn’t think about anything other than myself and say, “Idiot.”
Lewis Grizzard once wrote that he had a subconscious fear about kids that probably kept him from having any. Lewis, as he well noted, was a bit challenged in the commitment department, and kids – in his mind – were the ultimate commitment.
Or, to paraphrase one of his columns: “Marriages come and go, but kids are forever.”
My friend Brad and his wife Meredith welcomed their first child, Braden, into the world almost 10 days ago, and Brad summed it up best during my visit with them in the hospital:
“I realize that we’re a family now. We’ll always be. I am forever daddy.”
Forever daddy. Sounds better than anything.